THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE
Directed by Federico Bellone
2 - 6 July 2019
Reviewed by Richard Jones
Dirty Dancing on stage opened at the Aldwych Theatre in London in October 2006 enjoying a five year run before embarking on a two year national tour. This show includes over forty musical numbers and, as it takes place in the summer of 1963, these are mostly songs of the era. This brings a nostalgic feel to the story just before the advent of the Beatles and their music which changed the music scene for ever.
Whilst the show is set in 1963 it has to have the energy and optimism that was engendered by a group of youngsters that at that time felt, in a post Second World War period, the future was theirs for the taking.
To engage today’s audiences nearing the end of the second decade of the new century, production values have to reflect both the nostalgia of the time and capture the interest of audiences filling theatres today. Judging by the number of mobile devices being discreetly viewed by adjacent audience members this production fell a little short of achieving that.
Not the fault of the on-stage performers who tried their best to bring this romantic tale to life although the whoops and excited cheers emanating from some members of the audience at the sight of Johnny Castle played by Michael O’Reilly’s bare chest, bare bottom or when he made love to Katie Eccles’ as ‘Baby” Houseman indicated that the cult status of this show still prevails.
Katie Eccles standing in for Kira Malou as 17 year old ‘Baby’, younger of the Houseman daughters, who with Mum and Dad are on vacation at the Catskills upmarket holiday resort, awkwardly and shyly takes her first steps into late adolescence by attempting to dance attracting the attention of heartthrob Johnny Castle. This relationship is crucial to the story as with practice Baby improves her dancing skills with the help of Johnny.
The production even reproduces the lake scene from the film with the help of a video screen, again a cult part of the show, when to fall from the overheard lift is less painful when landing in the water.
Good support from the very flexible bodied Simone Covele as Penny Johnson, Johnny’s show dance partner, who falls pregnant leading Baby to try and step in for her. Baby’s sister played by Lizzie Ottley as a wannabe performer is suitably cringeworthy.
Kellerman’s band provided the on-stage dance music, additional sound tracks being added from original sources.
Roberto Comotti’s original set design involving a central set piece of the resort building which could be rotated with the reverse forming the inside ballroom together with additional trucks creating staff quarters and inside the Houseman’s chalet were slickly changed by on-stage performers although at times this proved a little fussy.
In summary a show that has given a great many people a great deal of pleasure both in the original film with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze and through its reincarnation as a stage musical. Of course a classic ending with Jonny Castle’s utterance of “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” followed by a rousing dance routine between the two culminating in “the lift” and a company chorus of “The Time of My Life” the standing ovation was always going to be guaranteed!